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A promising political spring in Washington

While memories of winter 2015 are starting to fade here in Washington, back up home in Central New York, the ice on the Finger Lakes just broke up. It was a long, tough winter with lots of snow and February temperatures averaging 9 degrees Fahrenheit. As you would imagine, the colder the weather, the thicker the ice — this year, over two feet thick. By late March, people were wondering if the ice would ever go out and if winter would ever end.

{mosads}This long winter is nothing compared to our current political winter, which is the longest I can remember (and I have been here since 1988): long, cold, dark, dreary and bitter. Is it possible that the thick ice on our political pond is breaking up? The signs of spring are all around us. The Potomac is full of anadromous fish; herring, shad and striped bass have flooded into the river. The cherry blossoms have come and gone, while the redbud, dogwood and tulips are blazing and the House and Senate are passing bills.

Granted, there is no flood of legislation. We have a Republican Congress and we Republicans don’t measure success in bills passed or even signed. The Republican leadership does measure success by passing bills that have to be passed. So far this year, the Congress has eight bills signed into law, the second most-productive start for a Republican Congress in decades. All of these bills are priorities.

There has been significant movement of late. It is beginning to be well-documented. First, the unresolved fight from last year was resolved. The Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act was agreed upon in each body, and signed by the president. Next, each body passed their budget. Normally, budgets do not matter that much, but these do. Each budget document calls for a reconciliation process which enables all kinds of possibilities, including entitlement reform, which most agree is the woolly mammoth in the room. With the “doc fix,” 17 years of ice thawed when this permanent funding solution was reached.

In the Senate, agreements on consideration of trade promotion authority, the Iran treaty, the human trafficking bill and the nomination of Loretta Lynch as attorney general are all faits accomplis.

In the House, the Appropriations bills are on the floor in April, which is unheard of. The Energy and Commerce Committee is working toward a bipartisan 21st Century Cures bill. The Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is focused once again on the surface transportation bill and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization. This time, they seem to have some new ideas about how to fund our infrastructure and reorder the FAA.

The Speaker seems to have gathered a second wind after a tough start. Now he has an interesting challenge. The committee leadership — those not on the political leadership track — often complain that those in party leadership take over a bill at a critical time and, because they don’t know the nuances, create more problems than they solve. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), co-author of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act, knows that bill better than anyone in the Congress. He should be able to make the nuanced adjustments to get it over to the Senate for a conference. If he can’t, no one can.

This is all great for Congress. Before you know it, favorability will be way back up to where it was before we got rid of earmarks. That actually was about the time when the skim ice began to form on the pond. It has been six years since there has been any real regular order. We certainty aren’t there yet, but the signs are good.

We have huge pent-up demand. We have an American public which is highly suspicions of anything that happens in Washington. The business community is skeptical at best, cynical at worst. Even the academics are wondering out loud whether the system can ever work again.

And just when you think that winter will never end, outside the window you hear the breeze pick up and hear the tinkle of ice crystal brushing the shore.

Ah, springtime in Washington. Let’s hope it turns out better than the Arab Spring.

Walsh is a former U.S. representative from New York, serving from 1989 to 2009. He is currently a government affairs counselor for K&L Gates LLP in Washington. The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of K&L Gates, its partners or employees.

Tags Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act doc fix FAA Federal Aviation Administration Iran deal John Boehner Loretta Lynn No Child Left Behind Act TPA trade promotion authority

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